March/April 2019

Simple Steps

Developing a basic marketing plan.

Allison C. Shields

If this issue of Law Practice inspires you to up your marketing game but you are not sure where to start, I suggest you begin by developing your own basic marketing plan. There is a lot of great advice and suggestions about approaches and marketing tools for lawyers. But all of the marketing tools and ideas in the world won’t do you any good unless you do something with them. What is often missing is the overall plan, strategy, and a way to organize and prioritize these tools and ideas so that you take consistent action.

Begin With Your Purpose

The first question you need to address when creating your marketing plan is why. What is the purpose behind your marketing plan or efforts? Don’t just gloss over this process. The simplest answer—to get more clients—isn’t always the right one or the one that will maximize your profits.

In fact you might find that the purpose behind your marketing is actually to attract fewer clients so that you can provide a greater level of service for your current clients and increase your fees. Or you may decide that the purpose of your marketing isn’t to get new clients but to get more business from your existing or former clients.

Some other examples of purpose might include expanding into a new practice area, increasing the percentage of work you receive in a specific practice area, becoming more visible to a certain target audience or generating more referrals from a particular referral source. In short, what outcome would you like to achieve through your marketing effort?

If you are in a law firm, all of the firm’s key players should agree with your marketing purpose, and it should be closely tied to your main business goals for the same period.

Who Are The Players?

First, who is your target market? Defining and getting to know your target market may be the most important step you can take in developing your marketing and business development plan. All of your marketing needs to revolve around your target market—and its wants, needs and expectations.

Keep in mind that you may have more than one target audience, depending on how many areas of law you practice in and what types of services you provide to your clients. Your target audience might also include former and existing clients and different types of referral sources.

In addition to being very clear about your target audience, you need to know yourself and your firm. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do those strengths and weaknesses line up with your purpose and marketing goals? Who in your firm is the best fit for the clients or the target audience that you want to reach with your marketing? What marketing activities do you enjoy participating in? What are you good at?

Finally, you will want to look at the competition. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities can you see when you look at what your competition is doing? What services are they not providing to your target audience? How can you differentiate yourself from the competition?

Benefits to the Client

Part of getting to know your target audience (or audiences) is understanding their problems and challenges. What typically motivates a client to seek your legal advice? What is the result the client is looking for? What kinds of services do they want to receive? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can develop your service offerings—and your marketing—to specifically address them.

Your core marketing message is built around your client’s problems and your solution to those problems. When developing your marketing message, put yourself in the shoes of your target client. Instead of creating a marketing message that focuses on you and your firm, focus on the benefits that the client will receive from working with you.

Your marketing message has to pass the “so what?” test: Why is anything you include in your marketing message important to the client?

How Will You Engage Your Audience?

You probably already have some good ideas about what marketing tools and activities are available to you—websites, blogs, apps, networking, writing articles, speaking engagements and more. But you can’t possibly implement them all at once, so you will need to evaluate which of those tools and activities will work best for you to reach your target audience.

Look at your strengths and weaknesses to determine which tools are right for you and for those in your firm. If you’re a horrible writer and don’t have the patience to write articles but you’re gregarious and are a good speaker, writing articles might not be the right fit for you; rather, giving seminars, presentations and networking might be more suitable.

Consider your budget and other resources, including time. Most clients need several contacts with you before they will make the decision to work with you, which means you’ll need to sustain marketing activities over time. And you’ll need to ensure that you have a follow-up system in place to continue your contact with prospects, strategic alliances and existing clients after the initial contact.

It doesn’t matter how good your marketing message is, or how innovative the tool you use to deliver it, if it never actually reaches your target audience. Think about what your target audience will best respond to. You’ll need to know where your clients and potential clients go for information and advice: Do they prefer websites, industry conferences or trade publications? Are your clients more likely to look for a lawyer on the internet, in the Yellow Pages or by contacting another trusted professional?

When's the Best Time to Market?

By now, you know your target audience well, particularly if you’ve been practicing for some time. You know who they are, what they need and where they turn for help. Start looking for patterns in terms of timing as well. Do most of your clients seek help at a certain time of the year? Is there a specific event that usually or often triggers them to seek help? Do existing clients re-evaluate their legal needs at the end of the fiscal or calendar year? These can be valuable clues about when you should time your marketing and business development efforts.

Plan far enough in advance so you don’t miss new clients when you’re away on vacation or forget to follow up when you are busy in trial. Plan your business development and marketing so that you have consistent cash flow and a steady stable of clients. Don’t create a feast-or-famine cycle by marketing feverishly when you have no new work on the horizon and then ignore your marketing plan once the work starts coming in.

Finally, keeping track of marketing activities and developing an editorial calendar and follow-up schedule to stay in contact with your target audience will ensure that you stay “top of mind” when a client or contact has a problem or a referral.

By approaching your marketing plan in this way instead of starting with the latest marketing trend or app, your marketing will be more focused and will resonate better with your target audience.

Allison C. Shields

Allison C. Shields is the president of Legal Ease Consulting Inc., where she works with lawyers and law firms to develop strategies to improve marketing and client service, and increase productivity, efficiency and profitability. She is the co-author of several books, including LinkedIn in One Hour for Lawyers (ABA 2013) and How to Do More in Less Time: The Complete Guide to Increasing Your Productivity and Improving Your Bottom Line (ABA 2014). allison@legaleaseconsulting.com

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